Reflection: Youth in Mission–Serving Christ in the World 2003

Eight years ago, in between my junior and senior years in high school, I applied for a summer program at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. The name of it was Youth in Mission–Serving Christ in the World. At the time, I didn’t really know what the program was. My pastor suggested that I apply. It was a three week program–one week at LSTC, one week in Mexico, and a final week at LSTC. Because it was funded by a grant through the Lily Foundation, the cost to me was minimal. And I had never been out of the country before. I packed my bags and headed up to LSTC.

It’s hard to remember everything that I experienced over those three weeks. I found my old journal that we were given at the start of the program and read through the few entries I made. Aside from clearly demonstrating that I am a true geek at heart, there’s not much there. A few poems unfit for sharing, some ramblings about dreams, reflections on small group time question, and song lyrics are all that I recorded in writing. I do remember the talk that tuned me into the injustice of NAFTA and agreements like it and spending a few days at a daycare–those were important

But while I may not remember what I experienced, I remember who I experienced it with. The strangest thing happened over those three weeks. A group of 20+ high school students who spent such a short time together bonded. And boy, did we bond.

Maybe it was the close quarters in the LSTC apartments.
Maybe it was the games of volleyball and ultimate frisbee we played in the courtyard of the “big black box” in our free time.
Maybe it was the way we rallied around each other in Mexico when we grew homesick (or in one case, physically sick from dehydration).
Maybe it was the shared torture of leaving behind children whom we grew to love as we worked with them–one cried because she didn’t want her new “mamacita” to leave her (and her new mamacita cried, too).
Maybe it was the laughter we shared as one of our fellow students convinced another that she did indeed raise elephants on a ranch in Iowa.
Maybe it was the experience of climbing pyramids one day and taking communion in the friendliest, most welcoming Roman Catholic church we have ever been to the next.

Whatever it was, something changed in us that summer. Our eyes had been opened to a world outside our own and stirred in us passions to go out and change it–to work with the poor and oppressed, immigrants, children. A few of us even ended up going to seminary after all. And a couple are currently working on doctorates in various fields. Two even got married a few years later!

Community and love built those relationships–relationships that endure. How do I know? Because a few nights ago, I had a dream about the YIM group. When I woke up, I sent a quick Facebook message to those YIM members I was Friends with (which, admittedly, was a large majority of the group). Much to my surprise, replies poured in, and those members whom I had accidentally left out were added into the conversation. We shared what we had been up to these past 8 years and how YIM changed our lives–it was as if we had never lost contact. We even decided then and there to set up a 10-year reunion.

Isn’t it amazing what community can do to people?

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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